Some hundred years ago Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote a novel in Bengali, Aanandamat. A long Sanskrit poem called Vande Mataram, which he had written earlier, was included in it and was recited by one of the characters of the novel.
One section of Indian society holds that this is a patriotic song. Therefore, it wants the students of educational institutions all over India to sing it daily at the morning assembly to inculcate the spirit of patriotism. On the other hand, another group is of the opinion that this song makes references to certain gods and goddesses of a specific religion, and is therefore suitable only for that section of society, which believes in them. For the other sections of society, which subscribe to other religions, singing a song that glorifies the gods and goddesses of any other religion would be against their own religion.
This controversy has existed between these two groups from days before 1947 and has survived all these years. Recent developments have brought this issue once again into the limelight, as 7th September 2006 is the 100th anniversary of Vande Mataram and those who believe in the sanctity of this song want it to be sung all over India on that day.
After India achieved its independence in 1947, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, said that the biggest drawback to India's progress was that Indians lack the 'scientific temper.' Unfortunately, this holds true till today. The Vande Mataram controversy is but one of the many manifestations of this fact. It is evident that, in dealing with this issue, both groups have abandoned reason and have taken the path of extremism. And the phenomenon of extremism inevitably results from an emotional rather than a scientific approach.
What needs to be kept in mind, first and foremost, while dealing with this issue is that Vande Mataram is just a part of a novel. It forms part neither of the Vedas nor the Geeta nor any other religious text. This proves the fact that this is by no means a religious issue. Thus, those who claim that singing this song is a threat to our religion, say so without giving the matter due thought. However, if they wish to oppose the singing of this song on the 7th of September, they must also object to other similar things. For example Iqbal once said while addressing a Brahmin, "Patthar ki murti mein samjha hai tu khuda hai, khake watan ka mujh ko har zarra dewta hai." Here Iqbal says that every particle of my homeland (India) is a god or idol for me, which indeed is a super Vande Mataram. Now, if we take what Iqbal wrote seriously, then we have to criticize him too. Thus, it is very important not to take everything to a logical end.
Those favoring the singing of this song have not given enough thought to this issue. They believe that the singing of Vande Mataram would infuse people with a feeling of patriotism. But Vande Mataram has been sung consistently over the past 60 long years and the question this brings us to is, has it by any stretch of the imagination succeeded in instilling patriotism? Anyone who has seen pre-independent India, when there was not much mention of Vande Mataram, will know that in those days there was patriotism par excellence.
In fact singing Vande Mataram is a cultural matter. Practically, it has nothing to do with religion or, as 60 years of its continuous singing shows, with the progress of our nation. So, the pro-Vande Mataram group hopes that this song will enhance patriotism among Indians and the anti-Vande Mataram group fears that the religion of their children will be jeopardized, both hope and fear are equally baseless in this regard. Vande Mataram is nothing but a ritualistic song and a ritualistic song cannot enhance the spirit of patriotism and neither can it decrease the belief in a religion. Its previous history is enough to prove this point.
Now is the time for introspection and a reassessment of all that we have thought and done so far. If we make this reassessment, we shall realize that the need of the hour in our country is actually education. A survey recently conducted all over India revealed that the number of places of worship in India (church, temples, mosques, gurudwaras, etc) is greater than the number of educational institutions. We therefore need to work towards eliminating this fatal disparity and must not waste time on an issue as trivial as the one at hand. Therefore, today we need Vande Education and not Vande Mataram.